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Supreme Court of the United States

Threat Confirmed: Speech Codes are One of the Greatest Threats to Free Speech

October 17, 2017

I just blogged this week about how one of the greatest threats to free speech is the campus speech code and in particular, those codes that prohibit “hostile environment harassment.” UCLA School of Law Professor Eugene Volokh agreed in a recent interview with reason.tv, as pointed out on FIRE’s blog:

reason: If you had to choose one or two of the biggest threats to free speech these days, what would they be?

Volokh: One is the notion of hostile environment harassment: that people expressing their views, people making jokes, sometimes people posting sexually themed material, sometimes people making political statements or religious proselytizing, can become legally punishable discrimination simply because it is—and I’m quoting here the very vague language of the law—“severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile, abusive, or offensive environment” based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and the like. This could be in employment, in education, in public accommodations. There is the limitation that it can support a lawsuit only if it creates a hostile environment for a reasonable person, but it’s obviously a very vague and very broad standard. 

Volokh is right. Such policies have been repeatedly used by universities to punish unpopular student speech. But the ADF Center for Academic Freedom has been instrumental in removing such vague policies at Temple University, Los Angeles City College, San Francisco State University, Yuba College, and Spokane Falls Community College. If university officials continue to employ such policies, we’ll continue to knock them down until the public university campus is again, a place where students and professors can inquire, study, and speak without fear of reprisal.


Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom

Non-profit organization

Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for your right to freely live out your faith


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